An Introduction To Belief Systems

On May 28, 2013 by T.
A Fellwoman in the Ranging Mountains

A Fellwoman in the Ranging Mountains – her believe system differs from Empyrean citizens.

Seeing Is Believing

I have always been fascinated by belief systems, especially ancient ones. To me, this is the fundamental part of all good fantasy: it’s what J.R.R. Tolkien and George Lucas have in common.  What if Gandalf didn’t believe the Ring had Sauron’s malice embedded in it? Or Obi-Wan thought the Force was just juju? You see, you can have all the characters you want in your fantasy setting, but each one of them needs to believe in something. And if they believe it, your readers will too.

To write a fantasy story, you need to give your characters a belief system. But which one?

When I was writing Tellurion, I didn’t want to create a world full of gods and deities. This is sort of ‘cliché’ in fantasy: every other fantasy setting relies on good and evil deities as a mechanism for the epic battle that is about to unfold. They usually introduce a pantheon (and their unusual names) that is unfamiliar to the reader and, let’s face it, sometimes very confusing. No – I wanted something else.

Research… and then some!

It’s a writer’s job to research. Even fantasy writers have to do it, (don’t believe me? Read this). I know I didn’t want to create a belief system surrounding deities or one true god. I wanted to use some sort of logical device, a mechanism, that my characters could use and reason with, and the reader would also be able to follow. It needed to be familiar, logical, elegant, and rooted. Here’s the story.

All belief systems fall under three categories: religious, which is very familiar to all of us; philosophical, which is a more holistic view of reality based on logic and interpretation of the senses; and ideological, which is more subjective and carries a political tendency.

I decided early in the project to build a belief system based on philosophy. But I also wanted a belief system that evoked the same visceral reactions as a tarot reading, an astral birth chart, or a prophecy. The challenge was to develop a system where philosophy (wisdom) was the driving force behind those ancient methods, while making it unique (after all, it is a fantasy setting), and oh!, did I mention it needed to be tied with a magic system? Yes, it was a daunting task.

Believe In Magic

Tellurion is a high fantasy universe. Magic is naturally occurring, and a huge part of the plot and theme of the series. My first decision was for not calling it “magic”. The term is overused and to us it means something we don’t understand, something unnatural. But to the people of Tellurion it’s in their everyday lives – kind of like technology is to us. It can’t be called magic if it is something natural, something explained by some law, some system.

Okay, how do you create a fantasy belief system rooted in magic that is natural to your characters? The answer: look into our own belief systems! There is plenty of “magic” out there!

It turns out astrology, meditation, and other more occult practices are all belief systems in and of themselves – and they all have a lot of history and logic behind them (some of them even have spellbooks). When I decided to go down that route, things started to shift. The more I read, the more patterns I saw. After months researching, I had amassed the basis for a logical belief system from which magic could be tied to. All I needed to do was learn them all.

Yes, learn them, practice them, believe in them, make it your own system. I learned how to create a birth chart (every major character in the series has one), read the tarot, interpret astrological occurrences, and even oriental medicine’s five elements theory. I kept drawing, writing, borrowing, until I arrived at a unified belief system that tied it all together beautifully. I felt like Einstein… seriously! It did take a good amount of time (about 2 years) and it’s still being tweaked and put to the test. But I had a solid system that my characters could believe in.

Tellurion Lore

The belief system is called Lore. An elegant and powerful magical system with a predictable, repeatable method for divination and spellcasting – utilizing astral charts, energy systems, constellations and birth signs, geomancy, meditation, yoga, and even a customized tarot deck.

Now, you would say “but not all cultures have the same belief system”. If Lore is the default belief system, what about  other systems in existence? For citizens of the Empire; Lore is indeed the most complex system ever developed in Tellurion, capable of bending reality and summoning cosmic energies via certain devices. But Tellurion is a millenniums-old inhabited planet, many civilizations (and ancient races) have risen and fallen with time, and many belief systems with them. What to do with all of the prehistoric (before the current era) belief systems?

But I’m getting ahead of myself here…  that’s a discussion for our next article!

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